2018 polls neither free nor fair

Dailytimes24: The December 2018 elections were neither free nor fair because they were marred by serious irregularities, including ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of opposition polling agents and voters, said a US state department report, citing polls observers.

The 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices was released last night.

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Washington has recently been making repeated calls for free and fair elections. The polls are supposed to be held late this year or early next year.

The annual country reports document the status of respect for human rights and worker rights in 198 countries and territories.

US Ambassador Peter Haas, in a statement on the release of the report, said, “Promoting respect for individual rights helps create a more secure, stable, and prosperous world.

“Defending fundamental freedoms is at the core of who we are as a country. The United States regularly raises human rights issues with the government of Bangladesh in the spirit of respect and partnership. We will continue to do so.”

The report said with more than 80 percent of the votes in 2018, the Awami League and its electoral allies won 288 of 300 seats, while the main opposition BNP and its allies won only seven.

During the campaign leading up to the election, there were many credible reports of harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrests, and violence that made it difficult for many opposition candidates and their supporters to meet, hold rallies, or campaign freely.

Only seven of the 22 Election Working Group NGOs were approved by the home ministry, NGO Affairs Bureau, and the Election Commission to observe the election, the report added.

Low voter turnout, intimidation, irregularities, and violence during campaigns and voting marked several local government elections during 2022. Ain O Salish Kendra noted that 479 incidents of political violence occurred, with 70 deaths.

On the human rights situation, the report said the government mobilised law enforcement resources to level civil and criminal charges against opposition party leaders.

The BNP claimed that police implicated thousands of BNP members in criminal charges related to political demonstrations during the year and detained many of the accused. Human rights observers claimed that many of these charges were politically motivated.

It said AL-affiliated organisations, such as Bangladesh Chhatra League, reportedly carried out violence and intimidation around the country with impunity, including against individuals affiliated with opposition groups.

The report also highlighted issues, including press freedom, labour rights, freedom of assembly, migrants, and refugee rights.

It said there were significant limitations on freedom of expression both online and offline. Members of the media and bloggers self-censored their criticisms of the government due to harassment and fear of reprisal.

Throughout last year, the government widely used the Digital Security Act against persons criticising the government, including questioning the government’s handling of the pandemic.

Increasingly, the law was used against speech found on social media, websites, and other digital platforms, including for commentators living outside of the country.

In April, the Centre for Governance Studies of Bangladesh released a report that stated at least 2,244 individuals were accused in 890 DSA cases between January 2020 and February 2022. Politicians made up the plurality of the accused, followed by journalists.

The report claimed an average of 32 arrests per month under the DSA, with arrest rates increasing in 2021.

It added that in 2022, extrajudicial killings dramatically decreased from the previous year.

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